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Lisa Wheeler-Brown topples Will Newton in contentious St. Pete City Council race

Lisa Wheeler-Brown is heading to St. Petersburg City Council to represent residents in District 7. In what was expected to be a close race, Wheeler-Brown walked away with a whopping 58 percent of the vote compared with Will Newton’s 42 percent.

That’s 5 points higher than the final poll before the election predicted.

“It feels great that the voters chose me,” Wheeler-Brown said with an ear-to-ear grin.

Prior to speaking with reporters, Wheeler-Brown thanked all of her supporters and endorsers including incumbent City Council members Darden Rice and Karl Nurse.

Wheeler-Brown and Rice shared a brief, but emotional hug during her speech after initial mail ballot counts were released showing she had an insurmountable lead over Newton.

The City Council member-elect celebrated her victory at the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum in her district just off of the 22nd Street corridor currently undergoing massive revitalization efforts.

When results began to drop through the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office, her more than 100 supporters went wild with whoops and hollers.

When Wheeler-Brown entered the room she was near to tears as supporters embraced her offering congratulations.

But the mood around Wheeler-Brown’s campaign leading up to the election painted a far different picture than the one at her campaign party where, even before the results rolled in, everyone seemed like family.

Negative campaigning, particularly toward Wheeler-Brown, started in September when SaintPetersblog uncovered a revised campaign treasurer’s report showing Wheeler-Brown had changed a $500 listed expense from “office space” to “photo shoot expense.”

Turns out that expense was for personal dental work, a questionable use of campaign funding that Wheeler-Brown eventually paid back.

It was all downhill from there. More mistakes were found. And then more. Three updates to campaign finance reports were filed in one day alone.

That, however, wasn’t even the worst of it for Wheeler-Brown. The salt in the wound came when an anonymous tipster pointed out that Wheeler-Brown created a foundation in her son’s name after his 2008 murder.

The foundation failed to raise enough money to establish as a legitimate nonprofit, so the $300 Wheeler-Brown said she raised was donated.

No reports were filed, though. Instead, an online database of companies and nonprofits listed revenue at $81,000. The figure was derived through arbitrary metrics and even the website itself admitted it was not necessarily accurate.

Wheeler-Brown took it as a personal attack, contending it was an accusation that she had profited from her son’s death.

SaintPetersblog reported the issue, but it was barely mentioned in other news outlets.

During an interview after the results came in, Wheeler-Brown addressed this reporter directly about the claims.

“I believe in God and I believe in forgiveness; that’s how I was just able to look at you in the face this morning,” Wheeler-Brown said, referring to a run-in just after polls opened at Pinellas Community Church in South St. Pete.

Wheeler-Brown was all smiles during that meeting.

“God would not let my heart harden toward you,” she said. “You are a journalist.”

That’s the kind of attitude she said she plans to carry into City Hall once she’s inaugurated Jan. 2.

Incumbents Steve Kornell and Amy Foster endorsed Newton. So too did Ed Montanari, who also will be sworn into office in January.

“Whether they endorsed me or not I’m looking forward to moving forward,” Wheeler-Brown said.

Asked about her Day-One priority, Wheeler-Brown corrected she didn’t have just one.

She said from the day she started campaigning she’s been focused on public safety, education and affordable housing.

Although Wheeler-Brown and Newton ran on similar issues, the dirty campaigning may have been what gave her the edge.

“The electorate is much smarter than that,” Pinellas County School Board member Rene Flowers said of the negative campaigning.

Others expressed similar thoughts.

“At the end of the day the negative campaigning came in and it was not a good thing for Will,” supporter Freddie Cuevas said.

However, at his election party at Ferg’s Sports Bar across from Tropicana Field, Newton said there wasn’t anything he’d change about his campaign.

“I wouldn’t, because we ran a very good race. Like I said, I think the difference here was time,” Newton said to SaintPetersblog reporter Devon Crumpacker. “Their campaign started in January, ours started in June, proper. So time is the great equalizer when you run campaigns.”

Wheeler-Brown will be sworn in to office along with fellow winners Ed Montanari and re-elected council members Steve Kornell and Charlie Gerdes.

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, who one day before the election endorsed Wheeler-Brown, stopped by her election celebration.

“Congratulations to our returning incumbents, Charlie Gerdes and Steve Kornell, and to our newest members, Ed Montanari and Lisa Wheeler-Brown,” Kriseman said. “I am confident that our incoming City Council will be our best yet and that the sun will continue to shine bright on St. Petersburg.”

Pinellas County Congressional District 13 candidate Charlie Crist also weighed in on the election results.

“Congratulations to Councilmembers Charlie Gerdes and Steve Kornell, and welcome to Councilmember-elect Lisa Wheeler-Brown. I’m thankful for their public service,” Crist said. “St. Petersburg is a great place, but there’s more work to do for fair wages, a healthy environment, education, and good jobs in the Sunshine City.”

Charlie Gerdes apologizes for missing NAACP candidate forum

There were two candidates missing from the final City Council forum last week – District 1 candidates Charlie Gerdes, the incumbent, and Monica Abbott.

In a Facebook post, Gerdes publically apologized for missing the forum.

“When I missed the Candidate Forum last week I was feeling very badly because I had missed it and I would have certainly been there,” Gerdes began. “I attended a Candidate Forum the day after I had full hip replacement surgery – I do not miss them.”

Instead, Gerdes admitted his absence was due to bad schedule keeping.

“I was looking at a Facebook Message and responding to it, when I saw that Erika Lopez had [Facebook] Messaged me on October 6th about the Forum and I had responded that I would attend,” Gerdes wrote. “Unfortunately, I did not enter the Forum on my calendar at that moment, like I should have. I missed the Forum because I neglected to put it on my calendar and as days passed, the Forum slipped my mind.”

Gerdes assured NAACP members, the group that hosted the final City Council forum, that he is a staunch supporter of the group’s priorities.

“I was the first elected official to publicly urge the City’s purchase of the Cater G. Woodson Museum,” Gerdes wrote. “I have been a full time supporter of the Southside CRA plan since I was elected and Agenda 2020 was advocating for it. I was a primary supporter of the Local Hiring and Apprenticeship Ordinances, and other FAST Initiatives.”

Gerdes invited anyone who has questions about his support of NAACP issues to call, email or stop by his office. But he warned against using Facebook as a means of communication.

“I don’t seem to use that very well,” Gerdes wrote.

Gerdes is up for re-election against homeless advocate Monica Abbott. The election deciding that race is Tuesday.

Rick Kriseman backs Lisa Wheeler-Brown for City Council

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman offered his last-minute endorsement in the District 7 City Council race with a not-surprising pick: Lisa Wheeler-Brown.

A defining issue between the two otherwise aligned candidates has been their stances on a deal between the city and the Tampa Bay Rays that would allow the major league baseball team to look outside the city for a new stadium site.

Will Newton thinks the plan hashed out by Kriseman with the team’s leadership isn’t quite good enough for the city while Wheeler-Brown said she would support it.

Those opinions led to Wheeler-Brown nabbing an endorsement from the Tampa Bay Times – a huge deal in a local election – and not Newton.

But that’s not why Kriseman said he’s backing Wheeler-Brown.

“I have known Will Newton for many years and respect his service to our community,” Kriseman said.  “What I don’t respect are the recent attacks against his opponent, Lisa Wheeler-Brown.”

Kriseman’s statement is just another in a long line of complaints from residents about negativity swirling throughout the District 7 campaigns. Most of the mudslinging has been directed at Wheeler-Brown with only one major allegation – one about a $32,000 tax lien – against Newton.

The latest allegation against Wheeler-Brown involved questions about a foundation created in her slain son’s name. Proper paperwork was not filed for that foundation because, according to Wheeler-Brown’s campaign, it stalled after raising only $300.

But a website listed estimated revenue at more than $80,000. That number was proven to be completely arbitrary, leading Wheeler-Brown’s campaign to accuse Newton of incorrectly arguing she had profited from her son’s murder.

That claim has left a bad taste in a lot of voters’ mouths.

“It has become clear to me that Lisa is best able to elevate the discourse in City Hall and be the better council member. She is an inspiring leader who will represent the residents of District 7 and St. Petersburg with passion and decency,” Kriseman said. “Please join me in voting for Lisa Wheeler-Brown on Tuesday.”

It’s estimated that more than half of voters voting in this race already have cast ballots. However, for those who are waiting until Tuesday to cast a ballot at their precinct, the Kriseman endorsement could be the final push Wheeler-Brown needs to cruise to victory on election night.

“I’m truly honored to have Mayor Kriseman’s support,” Wheeler-Brown said.  “He and I have worked together for years to move our city forward. I’m ready to work with him, the rest of council, and the people of St. Petersburg to make our streets safer, improve education for our children, and create jobs that we can raise our families on.”

The endorsement could even smooth over any concerns still lingering about Wheeler-Brown’s extensive campaign finance mistakes including an expense for personal dental work, failure to report in-kind contributions and a slew of reporting errors.

A poll conducted this past weekend put Wheeler-Brown 11 points ahead of Newton heading into Election Day.

St. Pete insiders weigh-in: Lisa Wheeler-Brown will come out on top

The latest poll shows Lisa Wheeler-Brown with an 11-point lead over her District 7 opponent, Will Newton. Those numbers from Sunday night’s St. Pete Polls survey are indicative of what some of the city’s most engaged voters are thinking.

Of the 14 super-voters who responded to a question about who they thought would win the Election Tuesday, only two said Newton – and both of those are voters who opposed Pier Park and have been critical of Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“Newton has experience with the City negotiating so he is used to the process. [He] won’t have that learning curve and can hit the ground running. He will not “Rubber stamp” Mayor Kriseman’s Tallahassee-esque agenda and will not tolerate the Mayor’s political operatives belittling Council,” said VoteonethePier.com supporter Robert Neff. “Lisa Wheeler-Browns seems to have too many lapses in campaign finances and her judgment. She also appears to be willing to endorse anything Mayor Kriseman puts forth.”

John Rose, another Kriseman critic, gave Newton the edge because Wheeler-Brown “seems to have a dark cloud following her around.”

Rose wrote, he “just couldn’t trust her.”

But the rest of the answers told a different story – one of frustrated voters tired of watching a campaign chock full of mud-slinging.

Eight voters indicated they thought Wheeler-Brown would come out on top Tuesday with four others not sure who would win. However, almost every single one of those who hypothesize a Wheeler-Brown win or who say the race is too close to call said they were turned off by negative campaigning – particularly from the Newton campaign.

“What I saw from the Newton campaign seemed like malicious attacks and the refusal to apologize for baseless negative assertions of her profiting from her sons death really gave me the impression that Will lacks the honor and character necessary to be in position of public trust,” said community activist Chuck Terzian.

He’s referencing the final blow to the Wheeler-Brown campaign in which a foundation Wheeler-Brown established in her slain son’s name came under fire for lacking required documentation. Initial evidence pointed to an online estimation that the foundation had brought in $81,000, but the website used arbitrary information to collect that data. The campaign instead claims the foundation raised only $300 and did not move forward for lack of funding.

Wheeler-Brown supporters saw this as a low blow to Wheeler-Brown’s character and she ended up appearing sympathetic during a final debate in which she emotionally blasted Newton for accusing her of profiting from her son’s death.

Comments from those in the community who often spread the word about candidates to less-involved friends and family show an overall disgust with negative campaigning.

“I am really disgusted by the negative attack ads. This is the reason people get turned off from politics,” said Amos Miers. “Either of them are good for our community, and neither needed to go negative.”

The latest poll results could also support the hypothesis that foundation allegations doomed Newton’s campaign.

“We underestimated [Lisa Wheeler-Brown’s] support in the Primary, and in the two polls that we’ve done for the General she has been ahead. So, that would tell me that [Lisa Wheeler-Brown] is more likely to win than not,” said St. Pete Polls head Matt Florell. “Although, Newton also has shown more momentum from the first poll to the second, and the margin between them was within the margin of error.”

Florell said that before the results of Sunday’s poll were in. He was looking specifically to see whether or not Newton’s momentum continued, which it did not. This poll was taken after the foundation allegations. The previous poll was taken before.

The foundation accusations may have even overshadowed more obviously legitimate concerns about Wheeler-Brown’s campaign finance history. Her campaign records early on were sloppy. There were numerous items misreported in addition to a campaign expenditure for dental work that went unreported for several months. There were also several in-kind contributions not initially reported.

But her supporters aren’t worried about those.

“I support Lisa and I see her issues as missteps,” Terzian said.

And City Council member Karl Nurse who has supported Wheeler-Brown from the beginning has stuck by her side despite controversy.

“I think that Lisa has a slight edge. Most of her fundraising was local which helps. Will’s gutter level attacks finally went beyond the possible when his campaign alleged that Lisa profited from her son’s murder,” Nurse wrote in an email.

Nurse has not only offered his endorsement he’s also offered his checkbook. Nurse donated $1,000 to Wheeler-Brown’s campaign in both the Primary and General elections. He did the same through his company, Baytech Label.

And City Council member Darden Rice has stuck by her side as well. Supporters seem to see her as a breath of fresh air – a candidate who represents progressive ideals and is a more sincere voice for the people.

It also can’t hurt Wheeler-Brown that Mayor Kriseman came out one day before the election with his endorsement. That should come as no surprise to those following along based on the Rays issue.

“Even though her finance issues are concerning, I feel that she’s more of a real person that is truly in touch with the people of her community,” said progressive activist Tyler Mitchell.

A comment thread on Facebook asking who would win the matchup revealed concerns from left-leaning Democrats that Newton has too much conservative backing.

He has endorsements from Republicans Ed Montanari, Rick Baker, Kathleen Peters and others. The Stonewall Democrats called on Newton to renounce those endorsements, but his campaign has instead tried to paint them as evidence that Newton is able to be a bi-partisan candidate who builds consensus.

“If Team Wheeler-Brown truly turns out the voters she wins,” said education activist Jim Jackson. “If not it will be Will. The campaign teams are winning or losing and not the candidates.”

Voters and candidates will find out if Wheeler-Brown’s status as heir-apparent for the District 7 seat holds up Tuesday night. Polls close at 7. Because more than half of voters have likely already cast a ballot, it’s expected that results will roll in quickly.

Who will win – Lisa Wheeler-Brown or Will Newton?

St. Pete City Council candidates Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Will Newton faced off in a final debate hosted by the local NAACP Monday night in the Midtown neighborhood they hope to represent. At times the dialogue was reminiscent of a campaign that many people believe is one of the nastiest in St. Pete’s history.

Following the debate, SaintPetersblog brought readers a rundown of the key moments, but with just one week left until Election Day, it’s about time the campaign gets broken down into a “what does it all mean” commentary.

On paper it looks like Newton has the edge. He’s raised more money and has kept relatively clear of scandal compared to his opponent whose track record is rife with questionable choices.

Wheeler-Brown has a criminal history. Though, that history includes only minor misdemeanors from her younger years and various civil infractions. I once wrote that attacks on her personal record were inappropriate because most of the transgressions – things like retail theft and writing bad checks – were those most closely related to poverty. To many in her community, the mistakes she has openly owned up to may make her more relatable.

However, some in the city may take more kindly to Newton’s blemish-free rap sheet.

Wheeler-Brown got herself caught up in a series of campaign finance hang-ups after spending campaign cash on personal dental work, failing to report it for several months, not reporting in-kind contributions, as well as a flurry of other minor reporting errors.

Had it stopped there, the damage may have been too much for Wheeler-Brown to overcome. The campaign finance mess-ups were valid concerns related to her viability as a candidate. The campaign chalked them up to mistakes made as a result of inexperience and bad advice. But many voters may not have been able to dismiss the number of questionable choices and careless reporting errors so easily.

But Monday’s debate may have painted a different picture – one that could turn the tide in Wheeler-Brown’s favor.

The latest dig on Wheeler-Brown’s character came as a result of information surfacing about a years’ old foundation she created following her son’s 2008 murder. The Cabretti Wheeler-Fortner Foundation turned up no official documentation and lacked the legally required documentation filed with the Florida Department of Agriculture.

An online database of hypothesized company, corporation and non-profit information listed Wheeler-Brown’s income for that foundation at $81,000. She claims the foundation only raised $300 – not even enough to create an official 501(c)3 – and donated the money to a roadside cleanup program. Nothing, more, her campaign said, ever came of it. They also say documents proving the fundraising and expenses were lost as a result of a bank merger.

While her claims cannot be directly proven, the website estimating the revenue explained that the number was derived from a series of industry estimates. Translation – the number is entirely arbitrary.

Instead of crumbling under pressure, Wheeler-Brown got angry. During the final debate of the campaign, Wheeler-Brown wasted no time in accusing Newton and his campaign for using low-brow, dirty politics to earn some points in the polls.

Her interpretation of the latest blow to her campaign was that Newton was accusing her of profiting from her son’s murder. She publicly shamed him for it in an emotional speech to voters in which she even paused to gain composure.

The delivery was less than a minute, but the reaction from the crowd was palpable.

Because City Council races aren’t followed closely by most of the voting populous it’s hard to say whether that moment will be indicative of Wheeler-Brown’s performance on Election Day. If it is, however, it may be the defining moment in her campaign that set her apart.

It’s easy to pick winning and losing moments in larger campaigns that are widely televised and reported in the media. City Council races are much harder to hypothesize.

The one and only poll conducted during the General Election showed Wheeler-Brown leading only within the margin of error. That means the race was too close to call.

Since then, Newton has had more mail sent to voters in his favor, but an anti-Newton mailer went out that could resonate with St. Pete voters. It correlated Newton to his brother, incumbent Wengay Newton.

While the claims in the mailer were dispelled as a stretch at best, most of the voters who saw them probably don’t know it. Wengay Newton has a good amount of popularity within his District, but voters citywide tend to get irritated with his often bombastic rants from the dais. He comes across ignorant on issues and often appears to have not researched items on the agenda. To be tied to that record could hurt Newton in the polls.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Will Newton’s distancing himself from his brother in earlier mail that explained the two are quite different. Those who have seen both Newton brothers speak surely understand that. But again, many voters may head to their polling places Tuesday having never heard Will Newton’s voice.

The bottom line in this race is, it’s a difficult one to predict. Wheeler-Brown has unwavering support from two powerful City Council members – Darden Rice and Karl Nurse – but Newton has support from half of the board. Wheeler-Brown has the labor unions, but Newton has the police and fire unions.

There’s a funding gap, but it’s not that much. Wheeler-Brown has potential scandal bogging her down, but Newton has the stigma of going negative.

If I had to make a prediction, my guess would be that Wheeler-Brown walks away with the win by a narrow margin – despite controversy. Right or wrong, what sets her apart in a city election not widely followed by the average voter is her charisma.

If she does win, it will be interesting to watch the outcome of a Florida Division of Elections Commission complaint filed against her as a result of her questionable campaign finance choices.

Philip Garrett called Janelle Irwin’s radio show; what happened next was awesome

Philip Garrett is also “Charles in St. Pete,” an occasional caller at WMNF Community Radio on news and public affairs shows. For anyone who listens to call-in shows on WMNF, you know that not all of the callers always have the firmest grasp on the topics they’re calling about. “Charles in St. Pete” is not one of them.

But he made a silly mistake today.

As many of our readers know, I also host a political call-in show on WMNF on Friday afternoons called Midpoint. It’s a hoot, you should listen.

And Friday was a particular hoot thanks to Garrett. He called to point out (or complain, not really sure which) that I had not interviewed him, but had covered his campaign negatively.

For some context, the topic of Friday’s show that prompted a cameo from Garrett in which he dropped his pseudonym, was kind of relevant. I was debating how much the media shapes political discourse, particularly campaigns.

See, Dan Ruth penned a column in the Tampa Bay Times this week about a possible Rick Baker congressional bid and wrote that he would be running against Charlie Crist.

That’s simply not true. Crist is running against Eric Lynn in a Democratic Primary. If Rick Baker jumps in as a Republican, he would run against the winner. That’s a pretty duh scenario, but the Lynn omission is indicative of what happens when an establishment candidate comes into a race and snatches all the media coverage and is presumed a winner before a single ballot is even cast.

Garrett felt like he was on the receiving end of that exact phenomenon thanks to yours truly.

Fair point, Garrett. Fair point.

But here’s where Garrett gets it wrong. In every story I write about the District 5 race in which he’s launched all out war on incumbent Steve Kornell, I mention that Garrett is running.

What Garrett is really upset about is the fact that I haven’t been shy in calling him a “Hail Mary candidate.”

I get why Garrett’s angry. I’ve told the thousands of readers who come to SaintPetersBlog for all things St. Pete that he’s a no-go. But it was a huge political mistake for him to call a radio show and interrupt a conversation with his frustration.

The call, in which I ended up giving him a pretty good verbal lashing explaining why he’s not a viable candidate, was just one more reminder of why Garrett isn’t ready for office.

It was an emotional reaction. As an elected official, you pretty much need to grow some thick skin and let the negative attention, of which there will be plenty, roll right off.

So here’s what I explained to Garrett in a forum that probably gets as much attention as this blog, but from an entirely different audience:

“Philip, you opened a can of worms here.

You’re right … I did call you a Hail Mary candidate … because, sadly Philip, you’re a nice guy. I’ve heard you talk. You’ve got good messages. You’re passionate. That’s all fine and good, but your campaign finance record, not just in this election but in your previous campaign for the State House, was a wreck. There were so many mistakes upon mistakes upon mistakes upon mistakes that you’re not a viable candidate.

And then, also consider the fact that you go to these debates and you have the same talking points over and over and over and over again, but you don’t have any specifics to back them up. You got an endorsement from the Tampa Bay Times based on one sole issue and most of what I have written is how horrible that is.

… Next time you want to get on my show you can just be honest about who you are. You don’t have to lie and call yourself Charles.”

I squeezed all that into as little time as possible. So let’s look at some background here. Garrett’s current campaign finance reports don’t add up. Each report period shows entirely different numbers and totals and they don’t often reflect numbers from previous reports.

He filed one report so late he was slapped with a big ole fine for it.

And when he ran for the State House against Darryl Rouson, it was the same story.

During that race Garrett received five letters from the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections warning him that his campaign finance reports had not been received on deadline and would face fines of $50 per day for the first three days late and then after that, $500 per day.

In January of this year, the Division of Elections sent Garrett a warning that seven of his mandatory campaign finance reports were incomplete during that 2014 campaign.

On February 19 of this year he was given a final notice that the errors had still not corrected. The letter gave Garrett seven days to make the corrections or face fines of up to $1,000. It’s unclear whether the matter has since been resolved.

And then there’s this: Garrett had a home foreclosed on in 2009. Garrett settled the foreclosure with a Deed in Lieu of foreclosure for nearly $70,000.

Another foreclosure is still pending.

Sure, some folks will vote for Garrett – his friends and family and maybe a few residents who like that he wants lower taxes and better services (two things he hasn’t really outlined how to actually achieve.) But Kornell is, despite Garrett’s radio claim, crushing him in the polls.

Thanks for the call “Charles in St. Pete.”

Will Newton hauls in nearly $10,000 in final campaign funding push

St. Pete City Council candidate Will Newton crushed his opponent, Lisa Wheeler-Brown, in the last campaign finance reports due before Tuesday’s election. Newton raised nearly $10,000 in just one week compared to Wheeler-Brown’s $1,740 haul.

The latest campaign finance win brings Newton’s total contributions to more than $72,000 while Wheeler-Brown has raised just $57,000. And Wheeler-Brown has less than $2,000 in the bank while Newton sits with nearly $18,000.

That’s a lot of money to work with in the final days of campaigning, putting pressure on Wheeler-Brown to get as many boots on the ground throughout St. Pete to combat what may end up being an onslaught of campaign mail supporting Newton.

Wheeler-Brown’s largest contribution this report came from her own campaign manager, Meagan Salisbury, for $750. Other smaller contributions rolled in from residents for amounts raising to about $20 to $200.

Wheeler-Brown’s only expense this report was to Mad Dog Mail for campaign mailers.

Newton, meanwhile, saw a bit of a shift in his campaign funding strategy so far. While he still brought in maximum $1,000 contributions from two firefighter’s groups in Miami and Orlando, Newton saw an uptick in smaller contributions from St. Pete residents and those just outside city limits.

St. Pete-based architect Jason Jenson kicked in $200. City Council members Steve Kornell and Amy Foster each donated $100 and City Council member-elect Ed Montanari cut a check for $200. Politically active St. Pete resident Frank Lupo contributed $500.

Newton also continued to rake in contributions from realtors groups. Three based in Florida each contributed $500. So did fire inspector Dora Pearl. Myakka River Trading in Clearwater cut a check for $500.

Meanwhile, Newton also outspent Wheeler-Brown this report. Most of his total $6,687 in expenses went to Politicus for things like stationary, business cards, web site, letter head, ads and robo-calls.

Newton has spent a total of more than $54,000 so far in his campaign, which started in June.

Newton and Wheeler-Brown are in a heated race to replace District 7 incumbent, Wengay Newton, Will Newton’s brother. The two have swapped allegations over the past month or so.

Newton backers point to a series of questionable campaign finance details coming out of Wheeler-Brown’s camp including a $500 expense for personal dental work, failure to report in-kind contributions and a flurry of other small errors the campaign blames on Wheeler-Brown’s inexperience with campaign finance while she was in between campaign consultants.

Another allegation directed at Wheeler-Brown regarding a foundation she created in her slain son’s name prompted her campaign to lash out at Newton’s for arbitrarily accusing her of profiting from her son’s murder.

Newton supporters see that as an ongoing issue as answers to how much the foundation raised and how the money was spent have been answered, but not backed up with proof.

However, Wheeler-Brown’s supporters are furious at the implication and reactions during a debate this week seemed to tip in Wheeler-Brown’s favor as attendees reacted with groans of disgust when she brought it up.

Meanwhile, Wheeler-Brown’s campaign continues to point out that Newton had a $32,000 tax lien that he won’t explain even though it was paid off in 2012. Newton’s campaign said the tax bill came from work as head of the city’s firefighter union, but won’t give more detail or provide documents.

A recent mailer also criticized Newton for taking “beach days” implying that he had inappropriately used “swap days” as a firefighter for personal financial gain. The mailer cited a 2013 Tampa Bay Times article in which the then-fire chief changed the swap policy based solely on his suspicion that Newton was abusing the program. The same article, however, admits that the allegations could not be proven.

Another mailer out this week criticized Wheeler-Brown for past criminal indiscretions.

This race is widely regarded as one of the ugliest ever.

The two will find out who wins a seat on the council this coming Tuesday.

Direct mail round-up: Flier claims Will Newton got paid for days he didn’t work as a firefighter

First he was portrayed as a bobble head doll who says “no” to everything. Now a negative mailer targeting St. Pete City Council candidate Will Newton pictures the candidate wearing an obnoxious Hawaiian shirt, a crown made of flowers, and a hula skirt all squeezed into a life float.

The heading under the photo says, “Will Newton, Beach Days With Our Tax Dollars.”

The other side explains the “beach days.”

“We don’t know if Will was actually hanging out at the beach, but we do know that as a firefighter, Will Newton abused the system and got paid tax dollars for work he didn’t do,” the flier reads under the headline, “living it up and having taxpayers pay him for days he doesn’t work.

The paragraph continues to explain that former fire Chief Jim Large “was so concerned that Will Newton was having other firefighers work his shifts, they had to change the policy.”

A Tampa Bay Times article dated Dec. 15, 2013 explains that Large changed the agency’s shift-swap policy “not because he suspected widespread abuse,” but because “he was concerned with just one firefighter.”

That was Newton.

“He was never here,” Large was quoted in the article. “I felt there was abuse, but I couldn’t prove he was not filling out the form properly.”

That quote is also pictured on the campaign mailer.

The mailer also calls into question a $32,000 tax bill Newton owed up until 2012 when he paid it off. They quote the Times twice from an article that pointed out that Newton refused to explain where the back taxes came from.

“When twice asked in person at a Tuesday news conference about the source of his income, Newton remained silent with a smile on his face as shrugged his shoulders with raised palms.”

Newton later told SaintPetersBlog, but not the Times, that the money stemmed from work as an independent contractor for the city’s firefighter union. He has still failed to provide any documentation corroborating or further explaining the income.

“If Will won’t be honest with us now, can we trust him on the City Council?”

What’s interesting, and where the Newton campaign will probably push back against his opponent, Lisa Wheeler-Brown, is who paid for the mailer. That would be the Florida Voters Fund.

Wheeler-Brown’s campaign is being headed by Meagan Salisbury of the company Blue Ticket Consulting. Her fiance and fellow Blue Ticket owner, Tom Alte, has also consulted on the campaign.

He is listed as the chairman, treasurer and registered agent of the group. Adding to the ways the Newton campaign could respond to the mailer is a recent complaint filed with the Florida Division of Elections about a previous anti-Newton mailer claiming it served as an illegal contribution.

Things continue to get ugly between the two candidates. Another mailer out this week slams Wheeler-Brown for her past criminal history. And previously Wheeler-Brown claimed the Newton campaign accused her of profiting from her son’s death after reports surfaced questioning a foundation created in her son’s name.

Many political watchers in St. Petersburg argue this is the nastiest City Council race in distant memory.

As such, the race is expected to be a close one. The two face off at the polls Tuesday.

Anti-Lisa Wheeler-Brown flier attacks her past criminal record

The nastiest campaign mailer so far this election hit voters’ mailboxes this week. It’s a blatant attack on City Council candidate Lisa Wheeler-Brown.

One side of the flier shows an unflattering photo of Wheeler-Brown next to the heading, “Can we trust Lisa Wheeler-Brown’s judgement with OUR money?” Below that are several boxes with red X’s in them representing writing bad checks, retail theft, misusing campaign funds and driving without insurance.

The other side of the mailer explains.

“Lisa Wheeler-Brown says she wants voters to judge her on her record. What she doesn’t want you to know is that record is one of egregious fiscal irresponsibility. Despite arrests for writing bad checks and retail theft, she’s asking St. Petersburg to entrust her on the City Council with our hard-earned tax dollars. If Lisa Wheeler-Brown can’t keep her own fiscal house in order, how can she be trusted with other people’s money?”

Wheeler-Brown openly discussed her past convictions for retail theft and writing bad checks at the beginning of her campaign. She explained they were mistakes that happened years ago and she has since learned from them.

The campaign finance misuse of funds, however, is far more recent. Wheeler-Brown spent $500 from her campaign coffers on dental work. After that came to light, it was also discovered that she failed to report several in-kind contributions and had misreport several other items through sloppy bookkeeping.

The mailer outlying all of that was paid for by the Voter Interest Group. The listed agent for that committee is conservative lobbyist David Ramba.

One of the groups that has endorsed Wheeler-Brown, the Pinellas Stonewall Democrats, recently called on Wheeler-Brown’s opponent to renounce endorsements from Republicans. In a letter to Will Newton they argued the endorsements were a step outside of the ideals he claimed to support, including LGBT rights.

And that’s not the only time Newton’s strong conservative backing has come into play. A recent endorsement from the liberal-leaning alternative weekly Creative Loafing for Wheeler-Brown chided Newton for “all that Republican support” after explaining that he would look at city issues on a “case-by-case basis.”

So, while this mailer may hit Wheeler-Brown hard – and where it hurts – Newton may catch some heat from this third-party mailer as well.

The two candidates face off Tuesday at the polls in what is expected to be a very close race.

Creative Loafing endorses Lisa Wheeler-Brown and the result could be game-changing

In a fairly unusual move, Creative Loafing has made endorsements in the St. Pete City Council races. Not surprisingly, they’re behind incumbents Charlie Gerdes and Steve Kornell. The decision to endorse Lisa Wheeler-Brown over Will Newton, however, came with a little more deliberation.

CL threw together an ad hoc editorial board comprised of editor David Warner, News and Politics editor Kate Bradshaw and managing editor Scott Harrell. They listed myriad reasons why both candidates were excellent, writing that “the circus that has surrounded this races has obscured [that] very real truth.”

“We are most excited by the prospect of a fresh voice, one with a drive to achieve and a visceral sense of the everyday challenges that face the communities of District 7,” Bradshaw wrote of the group’s decision to put its weight behind Wheeler-Brown.

The two candidates are very similar in their goals for the District 7 community they seek to represent. Both want to improve educational outcomes, job opportunities and affordable housing.

Even their ideas for getting there are often similar.

The only real differences between the two lies in their delivery styles – Newton is soft-spoken, but stern while Wheeler-Brown is passionate – and their views on the Rays.

It might not seem that big of a deal to nab an endorsement from an alt-weekly, but this one could be key for Wheeler-Brown during the final push before Election Day Tuesday.

That’s because the CL endorsement validates one she’s already received.

I wrote recently that voters should take with a grain of salt any endorsement issued by the Times’ editorial board because, when it comes to St. Pete elections this year, they base that important decision on one issue – the Tampa Bay Rays.

But CL calls them out for that. They lambast the decision to “excoriate the candidacy of an accomplished incumbent based almost entirely on the Rays issue.” The CL ed board also points out the Rays are hardly an issue in Kornell’s South St. Pete District 5.

Bradshaw plays down the Rays issue not just in Kornell’s race where he faces a bombastic, “God fearing family man,” but also in the Wheeler-Brown/Newton matchup.

What that means is Creative Loafing is taking to its readers a reason to vote for Wheeler-Brown that doesn’t include the Rays deal.

The Tampa Bay Times endorsed Wheeler-Brown based on the Rays. So did the Tampa Tribune. That is until news of a whirlwind of campaign finance missteps led them to change their endorsement to Newton.

That called the relevance of a Times endorsement into question. That one paper took seriously a trove of troubling bookkeeping activity while another didn’t was curious.

But CL mentions the $500 for dental work paid for by Wheeler-Brown’s campaign coffers and almost immediately dismisses it. They acknowledge the mistakes make her “green,” but offer a vote of confidence that she will be up for the task.

And they apparently didn’t come to the conclusion lightly – unlike the Times.

“This was not an easy decision for any of us, and we went back and forth many times on our choice,” Warner wrote in a disclaimer that he had donated to Wheeler-Brown’s campaign before Newton entered the race. “We fully believe that either candidate would be a valuable addition to City Council, and hope that, if Wheeler-Brown wins, Will Newton will run again in the future.

In what will likely be an extremely close race, this endorsement may be the push Wheeler-Brown needs to cross the finish line on top.

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